Around two-thirds of the way into the aged vellum pages of the Voynich manuscript, you'll find a line drawing of a bath. A pipe leads into it, another pipe leads away. Inside the bath, knee-deep in a green liquid, squat 16 naked women. Over the page, more naked women stand in the openings of ornate horns, seemingly suspended by jets of water and using their hands to support pipes, or archways, or rainbows.

All around these pictures — above, below, to the left and right, sometimes in gaps where the pictures connect with each other — you'll find text. It seems to be there to annotate the pictures, to explain their purpose, but there's a problem: the text in the 600-year-old book doesn't make any sense.

Since the manuscript was brought to the public's attention in 1912 — when antique book collector Wilfrid Voynich bought it in Italy — experts from a range of fields have tried their hardest to make sense of it. Cryptographers have tried to crack its code; linguists have tried to decipher its base language. Botanists have identified the plants sketched within its aged pages and attempted to cross-reference their ancient and modern names.

None have come up with a full cipher for the Voynich manuscript's strange text. Few claim to even understand any of its words. Of them, Professor Stephen Bax is perhaps the closest to having a claim to making some progress. Bax, a professor in applied linguistics at the University of Bedford, announced last week that he has provisionally decoded 10 words and identified the approximate sound values for 14 symbols included in the manuscript. If his deductions are correct, they'd be the first words to be deciphered in the manuscript since Voynich rediscovered the book last century. Bax says they are a "springboard for the full decoding and eventual decipherment of the manuscript as a whole."